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tv   NBC Nightly News  NBC  March 24, 2011 5:30pm-6:00pm PDT

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on the broadcast tonight, who's in charge? is the u.s. about to hand over control of the attack on libya? and tonight what may be the next nation to go in that region. changing face. a major milestone tonight for a growing group of americans. asleep in the tower. two jets needing to land in washington can't raise an air traffic controller, and now we know why. and making a difference, for the struggling people of japan. nbc news with americans on a mission to provide critical relief. "nightly news" begins now. captions paid for by nbc-universal television good evening.
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it has turned into a big military effort, bombs and cruise missiles have been raining down on libya, and it could get even bigger and the stakes are high. it's been a mostly u.s. run air campaign thus far, but tonight a change is coming. a hand-over to nato for the supervision of this strike. even though the pentagon warned libya today, quote, we will continue to hit you, the u.s. is anxious to shift some of this to somebody else. and just as there have been new and loud explosions in tripoli this evening, there are late developments in this story tonight. we want to begin our coverage with our chief foreign affairs correspondent, andrea mitchell. good evening. >> reporter: after another day of high-stakes, diplomatic wrangling, the u.s. has gotten the allies to agree nato will take command of the libyan military operation, at least the no-fly zone. the president back in the white house after his trip to latin america met with his national security team today. as the pentagon announced the
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u.s. is drawing back from leading the operation. >> nearly all, some 75% of the combat air patrol missions in support of the no-fly zone are now being executed by our coalition partners. >> reporter: despite that claim, americans have been flying 70% of all combat missions this week, leading to questions from congress about america's role. in a letter to the president, house speaker john boehner complained that the administration has not clearly defined the libya mission. today press secretary jay carney responded, but would not let cameras record the briefing. >> and we have in a very substantial way consulted with congress and we'll continue to do that. >> reporter: even many democrats agree with the republican speaker that the president should do more to explain his goals. >> the boehner questions are valid. he's asking what's the duration, what's the mission, what's the cost, what's our exit strategy. and i think the president needs to answer these questions, not just for the congress but for the american people. >> reporter: and what about moammar gadhafi? intelligence experts warn it will be difficult to get him out without ground troops. >> gadhafi has erected a
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structure with his own private militias, his own kind of palace guard that leaves him almost impregnable. unless you had a full-scale invasion that basically overran the western part of libya. >> reporter: tonight the administration pointed to a diplomatic victory, getting nato to take over. >> we have agreed, along with our nato allies, to transition command and control for the no-fly zone over libya to nato. >> reporter: tonight clinton announced that she will be going to london to meet with the allies next week and be part of a cabinet team briefing congress the next day. nato will take over the no-fly zone and will meet to discuss whether we'll take over the rest of the u.n. mandate. brian. >> thanks. we want to now go inside libya where our chief foreign correspondent, richard engel, is again in the rebel headquarter city of benghazi tonight. richard, good evening. >> reporter: good evening, brian. from the rebels' perspective, it doesn't matter at all who runs this mission as long as the air strikes continue.
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as we saw yesterday, the fighting is at times heavy on the front lines, but there are indications that the air strikes are making a difference and that some of gadhafi's forces, particularly the ones separated from tripoli, are now cut off from their supply lines and communications. but of course libya is not the only crisis in the middle east. tomorrow is friday. friday means day of prayers. and in yemen they are calling this the friday of departure, when they want the president to leave the country. there are also calls for nationwide demonstrations in syria. and hamas is trying to channel all of this passion and anger and enthusiasm across the middle east against israel. brian. >> all right, richard, stay safe. richard engel in libya tonight. and now to syria. and this is important because in the midst of this wave of uprisings from the middle east to north africa and these arab nations, there is reason for some to believe tonight that
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syria just might be the next nation to go. thousands took to the streets to express their rage over the killings of protesters by security forces yesterday in the city of daraa. syria's leaders are clearly in no mood for the pro-democracy protests. they want them put down but the people don't seem to want to back down. nbc's ron allen has our report. >> reporter: only a few fleeting images document the brutality. pictures said to be taken by syrian protesters, confronted by government security forces. much of the aftermath too graphic to show. don't shoot, we are your brothers and sisters, a man yells. at least 37 people have been slaughtered the past few days in a town called daraa. thousands there demanding greater freedom and fairness. police also have had little patience for smaller protests in the capital, damascus. watch how this officer arrests
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this woman. nearby, a roundup at the central mosque. the first serious challenge to president bashar al assad, 45, linked to terrorism by the u.s. he inherited power when his father died in 2000. hafez al assad ruled for three decades, accused of killing 20,000 opponents in a purge in the '80s. syria is now largely closed to outsiders. it insists foreigners are behind the unrest. and after first blaming armed gangs for the killings, today syria admitted some of its security forces made what the government called mistakes. a spokesperson for assad went on television to offer a laundry list of new benefits and reforms, higher pay, health care, more openness. she even said the government would consider lifting emergency laws in place 48 years. tonight opposition leaders
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dismissed those promises and demanded immediate measures, not talk. while calling for mass protests after friday prayers tomorrow. a day that may determine whether an uprising continues or gets violently crushed. ron allen, nbc news, cairo. now we turn our focus to japan, where the humanitarian crisis is almost impossible to fathom. nearly 10,000 people are known dead, more than 17,000 are still missing after the quake and the tsunami, and the cost of the disaster there by one estimate, more than $300 billion. that's about four times what hurricane katrina cost here in this country. meanwhile, the japanese government said today that it once again is safe for babies to drink the water there. but as we hear tonight from nbc's robert bazell in tokyo, parents are finding that a little hard to believe. >> reporter: erica ono is struggling to care for her
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2 1/2-week-old son, born just days before the earthquake. even though she's nursing, she's still scared about the radiation found in tokyo's water supply. >> i don't know what's going to happen 10 years, 20 years later, to me and my baby. so it's very worried. >> reporter: she's even concerned about the water that drips into his eyes and mouth at bathtime. >> so i cannot use mineral water, bottled water for taking a bath every day. so it's like more scary. >> reporter: throughout the city store shelves that held bottled water are now bare and the companies are ramping up production. the government handed out nearly a quarter of a million bottles of water to families with infants. on wednesday, officials here warned that radiation levels in the water were higher than recommended for infants. now they say the water is safe, hardly reassuring for tokyo residents. >> the figures will likely fluctuate. i still won't use tap water for my daughter. >> reporter: radioactive steam was still rising from the nuclear plant 150 miles away.
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work continued, but there was a serious accident. >> three workers have been exposed to radiation. >> reporter: contractors laying electrical cable were exposed to more than 170 millisieverts of radiation. the equivalent of 17 cat scans. radioactive water seeped into their boots, burning the skin on their legs. two have been hospitalized. a doctor who studied the health effects at chernobyl says their prognosis is good. >> i would expect them to heal and this not to be fatal at all. >> reporter: still, the accident shows how dangerous the work is. until the reactors stop leaking radiation, many japanese, like erica ono, will remain very nervous. robert bazell, nbc news, tokyo. one more note on this topic. a lot of people in this country with knowledge of japan have been saying the following, watch the way japan recovers from the current crisis they're dealing with. crippled from an earthquake, a tsunami and a nuclear energy crisis. well, there's already an example of what one writer called the
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diligent efficiency of the japanese. it's being posted on the web. a stretch of road called the great canto branch, which we all saw on tv ripped open like a zipper. it was repaired in three days. new yorkers take note, the potholes and disrepair that have made roads in this city all but impassable this year don't have to be that way. back here at home tonight, new numbers from the u.s. census bureau with a big headline about the hispanic population in the united states growing at an astonishing speed. our report from nbc's kristen welker. >> reporter: this family moved from mexico to the suburbs of atlanta, looking for a better life. they are part of the reason why hispanics now make up one in six americans. >> there were a lot of job opportunities here with the construction, in technology. >> reporter: according to the latest census figures, hispanics now account for more than half of the total growth in the u.s.
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population. >> the hispanic population crossed the 50 million mark in 2010. people of hispanic origin now clearly represent the second largest group in the country. >> reporter: nationwide, hispanic growth was most dramatic in the south, more than double in alabama, kentucky, north carolina and tennessee, and nearly double in georgia and virginia. >> the hispanic population growth in the southeastern part of the united states has been driven by to a large extent job growth. >> reporter: asians also grew by double digits. but still make up less than 5% of the total u.s. population. the black population is at 13%. the majority of the total growth in the u.s. occurred in the south and the west. one-fourth of the people in the country now live in california, texas and new york. and the census population center has shifted too. it's now plato, missouri, population 109. >> today you might as well be sitting on top of the world, is that right? >> i don't think we're the center of the universe, but the center of the nation right now.
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>> reporter: there are signs of hispanic influence everywhere, on telemundo, the soap opera debuted only three weeks ago and beats its english language network competitors in primetime. >> we'll see both more hispanics participating in more elections, hispanics entering the labor market and of course becoming consumers. >> reporter: new strength in numbers that show an increasingly diverse nation. kristen welker, nbc news, los angeles. now to houston. mark kelly, the astronaut husband of congresswoman gabby giffords today talked about his wife and what he called her remarkable recovery. he spoke at the final news conference before his april 19th shuttle mission. >> she's starting to walk, talk more, more every day. and she's starting to process some of the tragedy that we all went through in january, she's going through that as we speak. despite that, she remains in a very good mood.
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>> kelly said he still hopes his wife will come to his shuttle launch. he says he sees giffords every morning and night, and her injury and recovery has not disrupted his training for the mission. when we come back tonight, everybody's choice for the unbelievable story of the week. commercial airliners landing in washington unable to raise anyone in the tower, and now questions about who's minding the runways. and later, the u.s. navy on a mission, stepping up, making a difference for japanese disaster victims nobody else could reach. "
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back now to that amazing story out of washington. again, two commercial airliners approaching reagan national airport, trying to raise the tower, hearing nothing. we now know it's because the controller, an faa supervisor on duty, was asleep. and there will be consequences. nbc's tom costello covers aviation for us. he's at reagan national tonight for us with more. tom, good evening. >> reporter: hi, brian. in fact that supervisor, a 20-year veteran, has been suspended and effective immediately the faa has ordered that at all times there must be at least two controllers in that tower behind me. it was just after midnight wednesday morning when an american airlines flight from miami arriving at washington's reagan national airport couldn't get anyone in the tower to answer the radio. >> washington tower, american
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1012. washington tower, american 1012. >> reporter: no response. a nearby radar facility even tried calling the tower on the phone. >> i tried to call on the land line and tried to call on the commercial line and there's no answer. >> reporter: on board, john from the nbc station wrc in washington, who says the pilot kept the passengers updated. >> sorry, folks, we can't land right now. i can't get in contact with the air traffic control tower. >> reporter: after going around, the american pilot landed on his own, radioing his position to other pilots as he approached. soon a united pilot did the same. late today, the ntsb said the controller admitted he fell asleep on his fourth consecutive overnight shift. faa chief, randy babbitt. >> as a former airline pilot i'm outraged at what happened there. we have an investigation ongoing and we will get to the bottom of this. >> reporter: nationwide, 30 airports have single controllers on duty overnight when, like reagan national, there are few,
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if any, flights. the faa chief has now ordered a review of all tower staffing, but reagan national sits within sight of the pentagon, the white house and congress. >> bottom line is two people in the tower all times, all times, and particularly, particularly at these busy hubs where emergencies can pop up at any minute. >> reporter: richards says the pilot should have diverted to another airport. but former airline pilots insist the crews followed proper procedures and the passengers were never in any danger. now, the union representing the air traffic controllers has long insisted a sole controller on duty at any time is a bad idea. it's always argued for two. but brian, this controller was not a member of the union, he's an faa manager. back to you. >> tom costello at the place known at dca on the luggage tag, washington reagan national airport. tom, thanks. we learned today the so-called underwear bomber who tried to blow up a plane on final approach to detroit on christmas day back in '09 chose
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detroit because it was the cheapest fare. investigators now say he had been planning to target either chicago or houston, but plane tickets to those cities were too expensive. northwest to detroit was cheaper. prosecutors now believe it was simply what they call a target of opportunity. up next here tonight, it looked like a scene out of a disaster movie, but it was real life for one very lucky truck driver.
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the incredible scene this morning on a ft. worth, texas, overpass. imagine being this truck driver. credit here goes to the rescue squad members and firefighters who got him out of there and knew to use the right equipment and work gingerly. they also removed two people in a crushed car beneath the truck. incredibly no one involved was badly hurt. at arlington national cemetery today, a solemn ceremony. the remains of 11 world war ii airmen laid to rest 67 years after the men were listed as missing in action. all were on board an aircraft that disappeared in november of
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'43 near the northern coast of new guinea. the plane itself was found more than 25 years ago, but it has taken until now to make a positive identification of all the crew members. and a funeral today, the day after her death, for elizabeth taylor, who died just yesterday at age 79. she's still being remembered fondly today, of course, on television and on front pages around the world, as the last of the real movie stars. her burial today was a private affair, family only, at forest lawn cemetery. final resting place for so many hollywood celebrities, including michael jackson, who was one of her very good friends. when we come back here tonight, americans making a difference in the desperate hours in japan.
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next a new flash flood warning. also how bay area technology could save your home from the next mud slide. wt get far.e arning if you're thinking tharisndkeee. oug mos thisineeke. our "making a difference" report tonight is about a group of americans in uniform who are doing some of the most urgent work there is to do right now. they're part of a massive relief effort going on in northern japan, bringing the most basic needs to the victims who are, of course, survivors of the earthquake and the tsunami. nbc's ian williams had a chance to see their mission up close firsthand.
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>> reporter: they call it operation tomodachi, operation friend, one of the largest helicopter relief efforts ever mounted by the u.s. navy. we joined lieutenant katherine roberts as she prepared to ferry supplies down the stricken coast. >> some water and some mres as well as i think some blankets. >> reporter: really basic stuff. >> basic, basic stuff, yes. >> reporter: the devastation has shocked many of these young air crews. towns wiped from the map, debris carried for miles out to sea. >> we actually found a semi floating about 60 miles offshore. >> reporter: our destination today, an isolated peninsula where 600 stranded survivors have received very little help. our helicopter perched on a soggy field while it was eagerly unloaded. the mission is about delivering aid, but they also want to find out what else this community needs. here they say they need gasoline, they need kerosene and they need more warm clothes.
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>> reporter: and then we were airborne again, a second aim of this mission, to search for other isolated communities. >> yes, sir, every day they're finding new communities out there that are in need of help. we're trying to target those in need the most right now. >> reporter: 31 helicopters are involved in the operation, as well as 20 ships, one offering a refueling stop on our way back. ships have been forced to reposition because of the radiation threat from the crippled fukushima plant. the helicopters and their crews are also being carefully monitored. scenes like this are good diplomacy, though commanders say the main motivation is simply a desire to help. >> just the excitement that there is to help and assist and to make things better for the folks here in japan. >> reporter: there is a real pride in this operation, encouraged by the gratitude of survivors in so much need of help. ian williams, nbc news, with
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navy relief operations in northeast japan. >> and back here in new york, that's our broadcast for this thursday night. thank you for being with us. i'm brian williams. and we hope, of course, to see you right back here tomorrow evening. good night. -- captions by vitac -- down pours and nasty wind bringing town trees, power line, hillsides. tonight we keep you ahead of the storm and help your family avoid treacherous travel. nbc bay area news at 6:00 starts right now. good evening. thanks for joining us on this soggy night. >> a messy and miserable day across the bay area. wind toppling trees


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